SYDNEY: Australia on Thursday proposed a prisoner swap with Indonesia in an 11th-hour bid to save two drug smugglers facing execution, while voicing “deep concern” about Jakarta’s international reputation if they are killed.
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” drug-trafficking gang, could be shot within days after being moved on Wednesday to the Indonesian island where they are due to face a firing squad.
Authorities must give convicts 72 hours’ notice before they are executed and in a last-ditch effort to save them, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggested a prisoner swap.
She said she had spoken to her counterpart Retno Marsudi in what was reportedly a tense phone call.
“I’ve spoken to her on a number of occasions about this, and I wanted to explore any other avenues or opportunities to save the lives of these two young men who have been so remarkably rehabilitated,” Bishop told ABC radio.
“She undertook to pass on my comments to the president,” he added.
“I didn’t go into any specific detail but I did note there were Australian prisoners in Jakarta and there were Indonesian prisoners in Australia and that we should explore some opportunity, a prison swap, a transfer, whether that could be done under Indonesian law,” she added.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that any deal could involve three Indonesians in prison in Australia over their role in a huge drug bust in 1998.
They were named as Kristito Mandagi, Saud Siregar and Ismunandar, the captain, chief officer and engineer respectively of a boat carrying 390 kilograms (860 pounds) of heroin that was seized near Port Macquarie, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Sydney.
Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir cast doubt on whether a prisoner swap could happen.
“Basically to our understanding, in our legal system, we do not have such a mechanism so I don’t know how this would pan out,” Nasir told Agence France-Presse.
Bishop’s comments followed an impromptu candlelit vigil for the Bali pair outside Australia’s parliament in Canberra early Thursday, attended by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Abbott, who on Wednesday expressed revulsion at the looming deaths, said he had requested a final telephone call with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to again push for the men to be spared.
“We respect Indonesia and we honor the friendship that we have with Indonesia, but we stand up for our values and we stand up for our citizens, and these are Australian citizens in extremis,” he said.